Folk-rock duo Eric Anders and Mark O’Bitz recently released their eighth full-length album, Answers Belie, which follows last year’s The Loss We’ve Won.
Speaking about the album’s title, Eric Anders says, “The title track is about how the answers we’ve had to life’s big questions often disguise/reveal our deepest uncertainties and fears. In his poem, ‘The Second Coming,’ Yeats writes ‘The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.’ The ‘answers’ that the worst hold so tight to not only belie their fear and insecurity; they are also the foundation for their passionately intense violence against those who are otherwise.”
Some of the songs on the album are political, some are philosophical, and others are sentimental, yet all the songs reflect an innate authenticity, beguiling melodies, and a purity of craftsmanship.
Tattoo.com spoke with Eric Anders to find out more about the inspirations informing Answers Belie and his definition of success.
What three things can’t you live without?
Eric: Both of us have a hard time living without music. We both get a lot of support from our families too. I am married and have three kids. My life revolves mostly around my family. Mark takes care of his aging dad and disabled sister. Both of us would be very different people without music and family. We both like salmon a lot too.
Why do you make music?
Eric: I enjoy making music a lot. I started really late at age 36 or so. I had always been an avid listener but had never imagined that I could actually sing and write songs. Mark helped me discover the songwriting part. I am eternally grateful to him for that. I see my music as more important to me now than any other thing I have done professionally.
What inspired your new long player, Answers Belie?
Eric: Mark and I put out a bunch of releases in 2022. All except ‘So Far Gone’ were songs we had either put out before being done in really unique ways (Bardo Hauntings) or songs that had been sitting around for a long time (The Loss We’ve Won). At the time, Mark was so busy with his family responsibilities that it was hard for him to make the usual trek from OC up north to the Bay Area for us to have one of our four or five-day writing sessions–which is what we like to do for every release with new music, which is nearly every release.
The sound of the album is pretty eclectic, so I’m not sure if there was one inspiration. I listen to a lot of Mark Lanegan, so his influence is definitely there. I know that the Dandy Warhols and BJM influenced Mark on ‘Long Ol’ Civil War.’
The lyrics are also eclectic: one sentimental (‘Eyes, A Child, Bedside’), one like my older stuff about a character who has relationship issues (more autobiographical when we started and before I had met my wife), one philosophical (‘Answers Belie’), and three political.
‘A Slow Movin’ Nightmare,’ ‘Force of Old,’ and ‘Long Ol’ Civil War’ are all inspired by the political morass we find ourselves in today with the continued threat of right-wing violence and Trump encouraging this ‘force of old.’ ‘Long Ol’ Civil War’ is a revisiting of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address within the context of the continued threat of this ‘force of old’–making living in our country ‘a slow movin’ nightmare’ for anyone who cares about democracy, the rule of law, justice, simple decency, and ending racism, sexism, and all oppression of the many folks in our country who identify as LBGTQ+.
Walk us through your mindset as you entered the studio to record the album.
Eric: We entered my home studio to write the songs and ended up using many of the recordings we made during this initial process. I have a decent setup and we were able to make recordings at a high enough quality to satisfy Mike Butler, our producer.
Mark and I are very sympatico when it comes to the sound of each project, and we generally go with whatever comes up when we set to work writing new songs. I think ‘Force of Old’ was the first one to come up for us this time around and I love its sound.
How did you get started in music?
Eric: For me, it was meeting Mark and trusting him when he said we should write some songs together. For Mark, he started playing guitar in high school and went on to do a BA in Classical Guitar at Fullerton. He played in a bunch of bands in the ‘90s and was mostly doing solo shows in the early aughts when we met.
Where, when, and how did the two of you come to connect?
Eric: Mark was playing a solo show in my hometown of Pasadena in 2002 and I asked him if he’d like to work on some covers with me. We started writing songs together the first time we got together to work on music. I think we wrote the song ‘Young Eyes’ (The Loss We’ve Won) during that first meeting.
Did your sound evolve naturally, or did you deliberately push it in a certain direction?
Eric: Mark and I both like the same music so we didn’t have to push much at all. We’ve been trying to push it toward having a bit more edge than we normally have with ‘Stuck Inside’ and ‘So Far Gone,’ but it still ends up sounding like an A/O release–which we are very happy about.
How do you keep your sound fresh, and avoid falling into the trap of imitating either yourself or others?
Eric: We can only work on songs we really like. Some of the songs we write don’t end up becoming released records, but actually not many. We don’t try to create a sound. We just write the music being led by the sounds we love. I don’t think sounding fresh is a problem for us, but others might disagree. Mark and I actually don’t care that much because we have been extremely happy with what we’ve put out there.
Are there any special recording techniques you use in the studio?
Eric: No. We just try to use excellent gear–all suggested to us by people (gearheads) who know much more than we do.
How do you keep your sound consistent on stage?
Eric: This is pretty easy for us since we have not been on stage since 2005. We are studio musicians. I have a hearing disorder called ‘hyperacusis’ which means I am very sensitive to anything above 85 db, which is not very loud, unfortunately. I have not tried to do a live show since I developed this problem. Chances are we will remain studio musicians … which is a bit sad for us.
What inspires your writing? Do you draw inspiration from poems, music, or other media?
Eric: We are inspired by the music we love–from classic rock to David Gray to Mark Lanegan to Daniel Norgren to Brian Jonestown Massacre to Trespassers William (Matthew Emerson Brown of TW used to be our producer).
I write all the lyrics and I am a practicing psychoanalyst with a PhD in English–so, yes, I am inspired by poetry, literature, philosophy, psychology, politics, etc.
What can you share about your writing process?
Eric: We are pretty consistent. Mark comes up with some music that inspires a melody from me, and then I put some words to the melody. The latter part takes much more time than the former.
Which artists in your opinion are killing it right now?
Eric: I’m listening to Our Man In the Field, Jon and Roy, and Mark Lanegan (may he rest in peace).
How do you define success?
Eric: It’s all about the money and the groupies. All kidding aside, Mark and I both feel very proud of the songs we have written together. Success for me is when I hear my (very talented) daughters singing along with one of my songs. It’s all about the songs … and how they hold up to aging. Unlike me with my old man hearing problems, my songs are aging rather well.